A BRIEF HISTORY OF
Emily Carr's watercolour titled Indian Encampment, Vancouver (circa 1908-1909). Shows the Granville Street tram and a village on the beaches in what's known today as Vanier Park. Photograph By THE PROVINCE
For most of its history, Granville Island was a sandbar used by the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, and Səl̓ílwətaɬ Peoples as a gathering place and known locally as a7ermitsut.
In 1915, the sandbar was dredged and the Island became known as Mud Island, also known as Industrial Island because industry became the main tenant of the newly dredged island...
Photo credit: Hotson, Bakker, Boniface, Haden Architects (HBBH).
An industrial wasteland, photo credit: Hotson, Bakker, Boniface, Haden Architects (HBBH).
By the early 1970s, most of the industries had moved off of Industrial Island, leaving the water and land polluted, a derelict industrial wasteland in the heart of Vancouver.
At this time, some Vancouver locals found that the old buildings could offer mixed-use, affordable rents for experimental businesses.
The public embraced this creative and cultural re-use of the island, and with public input and visionary foresight it was designated by the Government of Canada as the site for re-development, as a multi-use “People’s Place” or “urban park”- terms that were coined specifically for the use of this 42-acres of land.
Today, Granville Island is situated on the current and traditional and unceded territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, and Səl̓ílwətaɬ Nations. However, it is currently under the administration of the federal government.
Being federally administered has meant that municipal land-use rules do not apply; this has allowed for non-specific and mixed-use zoning which offers an extraordinary opportunity for nurturing diversity, cultural cross-pollination, urban and social innovation, and experimentation.
Ron Basford, and Pierre Trudeau touring Granville Island during its inception. Photo credit: Hotson, Bakker, Boniface, Haden Architects (HBBH).
Clarence Mills carving a large totem pole. Photo credit: Cloe Aigner
What Makes Granville Island Special?
Granville Island also offers freedom from market forces, allowing the subsidization and incubation of social innovations and experimentation.
A “People’s Place” meant that there would be ‘12 Pillars,’ each providing a variety of activities, something for everyone:
Market & Food Culture
Arts & Crafts
Institutional & Educational
Community & Recreation
Restaurant & Entertainment
However, as Granville Island reaches middle age, it has become less accessible, relevant and inspiring to the locals.
There is a concern that the magic of Granville Island's 'uniqueness' will continue to fade.
With your help, we can re-imagine Granville Island's relevance for the current times.